Blog reflection from the Center for Faith and Disability at Wheaton College
Relational Depth: Moving from Information to Transformation
Reflection by Dr. Thomas L. Boehm, founder and director of the Center for Faith and Disability, Wheaton College; and Dr. Bill Merrifield, VP of Engagement/Director of Education, IDEAS.
Without relational engagement, moving from talk to action can be like trying to run through a brick wall. No matter how hard you try, you just end up bruised, broken, and in the same place that you started.
Most Christians would agree that the church should be the first place where people with disabilities are welcomed with open arms. And yet, while unintentional, the structures of our Church spaces and services are often exclusionary.
The Center for Faith & Disability at Wheaton College has adopted a new approach for trying to get people with disabilities and their families to the other side of the Church’s exclusionary wall. We have developed a relationally based event called a “Faith and Disability Convocation.”
A Convocation is a half- to full-day event that brings church leaders together with people within their community who are impacted by disability. We gather to worship, pray, share testimonies, and brainstorm practical ways to accelerate culture change.
The event creates a space for people with diverse abilities to be enveloped into the life of the church in a way that shifts the group toward deeper wholeness and in turn affects the flourishing of every member of the body. The aim of these Convocations is to move the conversation from talk to action, helping the church to become a community of belonging and flourishing for all (1 Corinthians 12:20-26).
To transform the culture of a congregation, the informational needs to become relational. There is a significant difference between a mere welcome and full inclusion and belonging. The deep relational engagement in a Disability Convocation helps leaders discern steps to advance approaches to disability that are tailored to the unique needs of the community. The goal is to create a biblical vision for disability that is not reduced to a “program” or “disability ministry,” but one that is more holistic and connected to the church’s central mission.
The preliminary results of these Convocations have been encouraging. Convocations are only one tool, however, in a broader strategy that is a distinctive of the Center for Faith and Disability. The strategy is called a “Methodology of Relationality.” We define this distinctive methodology in the following way.
We build by prioritizing investing in relationships—over tasks or projects—and are learning to trust God to do the “heavy lifting” of transforming hearts and community cultures. By prioritizing relationships, we believe God can build programs and accomplish tasks better than if we follow our own wisdom in our own strength.
Relational approaches like the Center for Faith & Disability’s Convocation are one of the ways that we can begin to create communities of belonging with open doors and stop banging our heads against the Church’s exclusionary wall. Let’s work together so that under-served families impacted by disability can have their voices heard and churches can move from talk to action to more fully reflect the character of God.
Learn more about the work of the Center for Faith & Disability at Wheaton College.
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